First Steps

I’m having some quite serious issues with not only publishing my work via social media, but getting that social media to inform me what is being seen. It could almost be considered part of a larger malaise where blogs generally are only of interest if you’re selling something, won a Thing or are posting cute pictures of animals. Obtaining and holding people’s interest is a tough ask right now. It makes me wonder where I should be going next.

Those thoughts have filled my head this week, and we have a plan for the exercise and personal parts of my life, but not yet for the professional. Things that were expected to happen this week haven’t and so there’s been a decision to put off making any more changes to that side of things until I’ve cleared my backlog of work, which will happen by the end of next week. After that, reassessment happens.

It’ll be quiet here until then, with a lot of background gubbins going on regardless.

Airbag

Everything for next month is gonna get done quite late, far more than I’d really like. Of all the things that ought to be fixed in the business of organisation, it is this pre-planning which could really do with the most attention. However, over five weeks the entire process has improved enormously. One of the benefits of exercise every day has undoubtedly been a massive uptick in overall productivity.

That means that in February we’re gonna give Instagram another poke in terms of trying to build an audience. I have no idea whether it will work or not, but my basic understanding of hashtags should give a bit of a head start. It also helps possessing some neophyte design skills, which should stand me in good stead. I’ve already drawn a line over last month’s content… so, let’s see where it all goes.

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I get the whole thing about identity and cohesion, so ‘building a brand’ should not be impossible, if there’s content. My biggest problem right now is ensuring that happens without anything else suffering as a result. That means there are now three planners up on the wall to my right: not just writing, but exercise too.ย There’s a blog post coming up about what I’ve learnt this month about aiming for realistic goals.

An awful lot has changed since the end of December. For the first time in many years, pretty much all of it is positive. Sure, there are still fairly substantive diversions that take place: in order to avoid finishing this blog, for instance, I’ve managed to tick off two highly important subsidiary tasks from the ‘Do When You get a Chance’ List. It’s amazing what I’ll throw in my path when it comes to avoiding the obvious.

In the end, however, far more than was previously the case, shit does now get done.

Begin Again

To give me a bit of a break from thinking too much about new things, this month’s become a period of recycling. The short story currently running on Twitter, for instance, has sat on my hard drive since forever. The poetry that will appear over the weekend was originally written this time last year (or thereabouts) and has undoubtedly benefited from a second look-over.

It makes me realise just how much has changed in a relatively short space of time.

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I knew the last week was going to be tough going, with a notable couple of rejections highlighting that however good poetry might seem to be, other people need to agree. Winning stuff is horribly hit and miss at the best of times, which is why this month is also about trying to pick up some feedback about how to best package my work going forward. However, there’s still a lot of potential on the board, and I really haven’t been at this very long.

Probably the most important skill that’s been grasped since this time last year is the need to listen to my ‘voice’ within poetry: reading aloud, things sound considerably different than when written ‘cold.’ It’s been a process that, I’ll grant you, has taken some getting used to. Training my brain to work in a fashion which is often largely counter-intuitive was the hardest ask of all, however. This where mental shortcomings really became apparent.

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Going back to old work therefore highlights my shortcomings (I thought it was enough a year ago for it to just fit syllable counts) and pushes brain to find better ways of doing the same stuff again. It also reminds me that, scattered across notebooks and in other places there’s a ton of half-finished poetry that I should frag together to construct a new collection. None of this is bad, it all just requires thought.

That’s the killer, of course: finding the right kind of thought to fit each day, situations that I find myself within. The story work I’m doing has stalled because, of all things, a poem that is included as part of the narrative. New work is hard, but going back to old work has a ring of familiarity and comfort to it which is, I hope, allowing me to expand brain’s capacity and capability.

By the end of the month, we’ll see if this change of approach has made a difference to my ability .

Free as a Bird

On my day (which let’s face it is most of them) I am a world class procrastinator. The problem with this, looking at the calendar, is that we’re already three months into 2019 and this bid for World domination is not going to move itself. So, how do you push past failure and remain focused?

The top of those two monthly planners (intentionally blurred so you don’t get to see what I’m working on) has a very clear set of outlines. Next week, without fail, I was gonna push out some poetry (despite telling myself I was done for a bit, which was clearly a lie.) Except this morning, whilst desperately looking for a way to avoid having to tidy up, brain informed the Poetry Department it had a couple of rather useful lead-ins to the work that needs to be done. An hour later, I’ve written two out of four of my initial submission plan.

What occurred to me as I was hoovering up the floor avoided an hour previously was the rearrangement of mental priorities which is freeing up more creativity. What used to be the case is that there’d be no real grasp of what needed to happen when:ย this would lead to a ton of last minute panics, with work being rushed. If there’d been sufficient planning, more effort could have been put in at the outset. Having used wall planners now for about six months, it’s a far more effective means of getting deadlines to stick, and not panicking over outcomes.

The visual is a really big deal, which should have been more obvious than it was. There’s a third planner up on the wall, a 12 month one, on which deadlines are slowly being filled.It allows my brain the space to grasp what there is to do, what’s coming and where everything fits together. It also, crucially, allows me to plan for surprises. That’s what, if I can do something well before a deadline, it is far more sensible than leaving everything until a week before when inevitably, there’s more pressure.

It transpires that this is how I work best.

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Of course, none of this wins me anything, but that’s perfectly fine. The satisfaction I now feel in being able to manage and feel comfortable in my own skin, to recover from disappointment to get back into the process of writing is worth considerably more to mental well-being long-term. In that regard, this is far more significant a win than anything else that’s likely to happen for a while.

Finally, there’s a freedom just to be that didn’t exist before.

The Numbers

I went and ate cake with my bestie this weekend, in the place where in approximately three weeks time there’ll probably be about ninety seconds at a microphone. They all count, of course, and it is a moment I’m already looking forward to with a measure of anticipation. This is the success to be celebrated. I’ve spoken about rejection already this month, but there is one part of the equation that’s not been considered, and that is feedback.

Do you really want to know how good or bad something is after you post it?

The overriding problem with the endless rounds of contest entries is never knowing why you failed, only that you did. Asking for someone for feedback is, if truth be known, a mugs’ game. What one person might consider good another will pour scorn on from high. Getting stressed about generic feedback is also a one way trip to destroying what few shreds of confidence you might possess. So, is it worth it? Yes, sometimes it is. If the feedback comes from someone you trust? Absolutely it’s worth it.

Should I worry about how many people liked my post? Absolutely not.ย The only real feedback that matters, in that case, is the person who compliments you on a decent phrase or passage, suggesting a better addition as a metaphor. Nobody ever does that here, it’s just a generic ‘like’ and if you wonder why I very rarely do the same to anybody else’s posts, there’s your reason. I only REALLY like things that make me go ‘wow, that’s GREAT.’

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If it gets that from me, you are fairly likely to get detailed analysis too, in the vain hope one day someone else might do the same. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, this might become the new trend: people turn up and offer unprompted feedback.

Stranger things have happened…

Another One Bites the Dust

It was coming. There shouldn’t be any surprise at all, on reflection, and (quite usefully) this latest piece of news was learnt after I’d done the incredibly mentally draining ‘thing’ for the day and therefore, it couldn’t make anything worse. Nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough, especially in the current climate. Rejection’s an inevitable part of the writing process, and people deal with that differently. For me, it is normally quite funny, especially if (as was the case this time) it is accompanied by a staggeringly generic ‘we’re sorry you didn’t win and we can’t tell you why but WELL DONE ANYWAY’ email.

Today howeverย it made me quite angry.

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Most contests are lotteries for one reason alone: the people you’re trying to impress. It’s not like you’re judged to a standard either: if we all had to write twelve haiku, three acrostics and only in dactyls, before doing it again in evening wear whilst solving world hunger, it might be different. Everybody’s got their own idea of what is ‘good’ with half an eye on the marketplace: knowing what will sell, what they can promote, who are the current on trend writers driving tastes.

It might be unpalatable to some, but this is business just like games and films and art, and if you get lucky and mesh with someone, it is no guarantee of instant or long term success. You could well spend your entire time entering contests or funding your own work and not one person will know who you are until you die and someone discovers your legacy. That happens, and knowing this is probably a huge influence on why any negative emotion is always short lived, then transformed into something far more useful.

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I don’t get the satisfaction of fame after my demise. I’m here now, loving every moment whilst simultaneously railing at sanctimony that undoubtedly accompanies a lot of writers who feel they are somehow owed something for their struggle. Nobody owes you anything.ย This should not be about the commercial success you obtain from your effort. If you aren’t here to do this for enjoyment and satisfaction in the first instance, I have to say, you’re on a hiding to nothing, unless you are spectacularly lucky, and trust me when I say I know how unlikely that is ever going to be.

Sure you can make a living as a writer, and lots of people do, but not without a phenomenal amount of hard work, savings, second jobs, support from family, understanding friends and that’s even before luck gets introduced into the equation. For me, coming up for nearly two years of doing this properly, there’s the knowledge that success is not at all tied to someone else liking your work. You have to be learning, adapting and refining, constantly exercising brain and words together. It is like exercise, only without the lumpy bits and sweaty gym kit.

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There will be WTF moments too: some are brilliant, others will test your diplomacy skills. However, there is but one thing to remember when in such situations: be kind.ย Nobody likes a smartarse, or someone overly full of their own importance. Just be polite, honest and think before you speak. This bit is like being on the Internet right now, and knowing that sometimes the best thing you can do for everybody is just let the stupid pass you by. With #MeToo very much on the radar, the lines that shouldn’t be crossed are even more defined.

Seriously, just be a decent human being about all of this. You fail, you lick your wounds, then up you get and start again. If writing matters enough, you move past the rejection and use it as fuel, propelling you forward.

When you do fail, remember you’re not alone.

Was It Worth It?

Once upon a time, I got quite obsessed over the number of people who followed me on social media. This coincided with Twitter’s public and high profile attempts to remove the legions of robots and fake accounts from their platform. The reality of this change is pretty stark: I’ve seen zero follower growth since April 2018ย on the ‘other’ account. Ironically, this was the exact period that this project began to gain momentum: interest here is far and beyond what was ever thought possible in such a short period.

In my lessons and observations of Social media over the last few years, there’s been a veritable legion of people in the background, advising me how to ‘influence’ in all its forms. What is abundantly apparent is that the best success stories, people who genuinely deserve all the plaudits and numbers on their teams are those individuals who do, in fact, put in the hard graft. It doesn’t have to be sitting on Social media, either. The right combination of immediacy and backroom work pays massive dividends.

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I do love me some good organisation, but in the end none of it is worth the Post It notes you wrote it on unless summat budges. I’m pretty sure now the path that was originally trodden with what’s now very much a personal Twitter is the absolute opposite direction things need to head: if anything, I’d be going backwards. So, it is time to stop selling myself, and to start ‘selling’ myself. Those two quote marks are actually quite vital too. Before it was all far to serious. Now, if summat good happens, it’s a bonus, but honestly I’m not fussed.

Last time out, there was an agenda and I HATE THOSE. I’m not an influencer, just a woman with stuff to say and her own shit to sell. Not anybody else’s mouthpiece or spokesperson, just my words and stories that need to be told and might well find a larger audience if I push them. So, here we go. Gonna give it a year and see where we go. If all else fails, I might luck out and get summat published in the meantime, who knows?

It gives me something to do apart from the housework and exercise, if all else fails…

Nobody Does it Better

We are living in a Procedural World
and I am a Procedural Girl…

I absolutely ADORE a good TV Detective show. Ironically, I’ve not seen a Sherlock episode (but with Christmas coming that will hopefully be amended) but have managed a fair number of CSI‘s in my time [all flavours.] Right now I’m using Amazon to trawl my way through the NCIS back catalogue. Really, honestly, I’ll take anything if it a) makes me think and b) has decent ensemble chemistry. That’s the most important factor in my TV watching. All these people have to look like they would really get on.

As a kid I can remember Hill Street Blues and Ironside, Quincy and Columboย with fondness. Satellite TV also allows me the luxury of trawling back through historical gems such as Poirot and the various incarnations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, though nothing really beats Margaret Rutherford’s superlative filmic incarnation of the character… part of a Saturday afternoon tradition that became a significant part of my early years.

This is part of the reason why good stories matter to me far more than just special effects and surface imagery when translated to film or TV: there is a phenomenal amount of my past built from such narratives, and the desire to place human interest above the ridiculous or overly distracting. I have written a couple of murder mysteries in my time, but amazingly this genre isn’t one I feel could ever have decent justice done to it (pun very much intended.)

This is very much in the ‘enjoyment, not a job’ part of existence, and long may that continue…

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

I can’t speak for any other writer as to how their creative minds operate, but mine is VERY particular when it comes to inspiration. As should be abundantly apparent by all these #Blogmas posts, music is an indivisible part of existence. How that manifests has altered significantly in my 50 plus years on the planet, and is worth examining in more detail.

The first song I remember as a kid was this one, part of a cassette tape that got played until it broke… Disney songs, words to which I knew before being able to either read or write. My grandfather gave me a Glenn Miller cassette. I found a Simon and Garfunkel album and my father never asked to have it back. Then, he offered a copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Roadย by Elton John and my journey into music began in earnest.

When Punk happened in the 70’s, I listened to Ultravox and Duran Duran as a New Romantic, but loved Madness and the Specials as Ska. Anarchy frightened me, but The Damned’s New Rose remains one of my all-time favourites from that era… and so the exploration continued, taking in Indy, Jazz, Classical and Electronic along the way. I’ll listen to anything once. For it to stick? There needs to be something special.

Emerging from the very depths of depression, this song has huge significance: originally used to advertise a certain computer game, it was the first time that my brain and music engaged in a collaboration which has now become indispensable during the creative process. From music, pictures spring forth that never previously existed, and these visual aids then send me back to the page to record them.

It has now become a case of learning how to transcribe these visual clues onto the page. If I’m honest, that’s taken nearly two decades to perfect, but now we have utterly cracked it, there is no holding the creativity back. If a plot falters or won’t move forward, finding the right tune to fit action before and after is often a great way of easing the transition. Music isn’t just for writing however, it can also unfreeze my consciousness.

Music and exercise have become an indivisible and potent combination.

We’ll tackle that on Wednesday.

Rain

Today is the first of four general history posts. I could begin with some words on my love of Madge (up until 1992 when it all went a bit introverted, with a brief Ray of Light back in 1998) or perhaps it would be better focusing on an interest in Japanese culture this video gives a nod to. However, reason why this song starts our sequence has everything to do with the piece of writing it inspired and nothing at all to do with anything else.

This happens an awful lot in my life, and if there’s to be a proper history of what got me to this point, then music must be acknowledged for its part within that process.

It is 1983. I’m part of the ABC Fan club, and get invited to be an extra in Mantrap, a film that involves the band and that woman who starred in the video for Poison Arrow. A love of cinema and TV had secured me a place at college reading Media Studies and English, and to be an extra in what was basically a glorified music video was, let’s be honest, the pinnacle of a New Romantic lifestyle. However, it was music that mattered most of all.

That entire period of my life had been peppered with odd musical experiences: growing up with heavy metal, AoR, folk, jazz, big bands and comedy records. If I’m honest it was the comedy which had the most lasting affect, but everything else fell together into a massive, varied backdrop to my existence. Music ties itself to old boyfriends, significant milestones, even the worst parts of my life. For everything, there was a soundtrack, recalled in far greater detail than anything else.

This song, for instance, played in a car on the way to a wedding. I don’t remember who it was getting hitched, or why I was in the car with the person for whom this song is now forever associated, but they are and it still is. The smell of the rapeseed outside the car, the car itself (Blue Peugeot 205 with a Lemming graphic on the back)ย and the fact that someone independently confirmed I could sing. Literally everything else is lost to time.

If you claim to know me, you will grasp the significance of music in my life. Lyrics are remembered long after names and places have been forgotten. How that shapes my writing is a complex and often amazing process, which we’ll talk about further down the line. For now, understand and appreciate the significance all forms of the craft have in my life, from Classical to Thrash Metal and back again.

Music is almost as much a part of me as blood and bones.